This week, I talked about cosplay, steampunk, speculative fiction and more on the BLKBOARD podcast, run by college buddies Mike Tré Randall and Jermaine Dickerson (pictured), so in turn, we’re doing interviews with the podcasting duo here on the Midwest BSFA blog! (Check back for Mike’s interview on April 15.) We recently talked to Dickerson about mainstream vs. indie comics, the importance of representation and the broader definition of being “nerd.”
Midwest BSFA: How did you and Mike meet?
Dickerson: Mike and I met in college at Eastern Michigan University. We were both a part of the graphic design program there. We were also among the handful of black students in the program at the time.
What made you want to start doing a podcast together?
Dickerson: We initially intended BLKBOARD to be a podcast. We were both interested in comics and the general nerd culture. But we also felt it was important to play our part in providing an effective platform for marginalized creators. So, after the podcast, we started our website to expand on this idea. We hope to grow even further as we become more familiar with the process. We love what we do and we want to touch as many lives as possible.
Midwest BSFA: Where did the name of the podcast come from?
Dickerson: During the brainstorming process, we wrote what we wanted the premise of our business to be. We also considered who are target audience was, and our own personal interest. Generally, we wanted something playful, but it also had to reflect our business goals. Obviously, a blackboard is something you write on, a place to express your ideas and creativity. Also, the “black” in blackboard represented us as black men, and people of color in general. So essentially, BLKBOARD is literally a thinking, writing and creative board (or space) for people of color. We eventually omitted the “a” and “c” because we felt people would understand “blk” as a shorthand term for black. Plus it made for a cooler logo.
Midwest BSFA: How does the design element of BLKBOARD fit with the nerdier topics you discuss?
Dickerson: Nerd is a term that has a very broad definition. I believe if you have a passion for something, you’re a nerd for that thing. Like, for design, Mike and I consider ourselves design nerds as well as comic book nerds. We see it as being inclusive of everyone’s interest, including our own.
Midwest BSFA: We met you guys in Detroit last September when Midwest BSFA had a table at MECCACon, which focuses mostly on independent comics. How did you get into comics?
Dickerson: Comics have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. I’m still waiting for my mom to admit that I was born with a Superman toy in my hand. My interest ignited after I watched Superman: The Movie and Superman: The Animated Series. At that time, there were also other DC and Marvel cartoon shows like Spider-Man, X-Men, Static Shock, Batman: The Animated Series that inspired me to invest more in the culture. When I was younger, I was always thrilled to go into comic shops, especially to look at the beautiful comic covers and colorful superhero costumes. And if I couldn’t afford to buy comics, I would read them at the library and dig into the DK DC and Marvel Encyclopedias.
Midwest BSFA: Midwest BSFA: Do you prefer mainstream or indie comics?
Dickerson: This is a tricky question. I’m deeply connected to the characters from the mainstream comics—especially DC. However, I’ve recently learned that indie comics are undoubtedly more progressive. I say recently because I just started reading comics more consistently in the last few years. And after doing research and listening to people who’ve read comics much longer than I have, it’s very apparent that indie comics are a lot more diverse.That’s a big deal.
One of the biggest issues I struggled with in my youth was self-hatred of my black skin. Although I don’t completely place the blame on comics, the lack of diversity in the mainstream books, with characters I adored, made me feel like there was no place for my blackness in superhero spaces. Children are very aware; they absorb their environments both consciously and subconsciously. So seeing these things as a kid impacted me deeply. I hadn’t known about companies like Milestone at that time because I didn’t have anyone to point me in that direction. If you were to look at some of my art from my younger years, you’d see that I drew a lot of white fictional characters. When I tried to draw black superheroes, it never felt right. I always felt that it looked odd to see black man or woman in a cape because that’s not what I was used to. I’m extremely thankful that I’ve changed.
Midwest BSFA: What’s your favorite speculative fiction story featuring a person of color?
Dickerson: I don’t have a favorite at the moment because I’m still exploring. However, I’d say that some of my favorites include Bitch Planet,Ms.Marvel, Rat Queens, and Legend of Wonder Woman. Interestingly, though, these are all female-centric titles. I naturally gravitate towards content with female leads. I think this speaks to the fact that most of the impactful figures in my life are women—primarily black women.
Midwest BSFA: With podcasts like yours and other outlets run by people of color (like Black Girl Nerds and FanBros), do you think it’s easier to be a black fan of speculative fiction, comics and such nowadays?
Dickerson: Oh, for sure. Seeing those amazing podcast and how they’ve affected people’s lives is inspiring. No longer will we be forced to be silent on issues that are important to us; no longer will we allow ourselves to be fed content that promotes a white supremacist agenda; no longer will we wait for change when we have the power to do it ourselves. We’re all a part of the same cause, seeking the same goal. We all hope to inspire people of color and other marginalized groups. And when we create spaces to have intellectual conversations on intersectionality and other important topics, that’s when the change begins. “We out here.”
Midwest BSFA: Anything else you want our readers to know?
Dickerson: Dream. And when you dream, dream big. But whatever you do, whatever obstacles you’ll endure, whatever doubts you may have, don’t stop.